Most of us think of Joshua Tree National Park as a scenic, desert park with cool rock formations and, of course, those funky Joshua Trees. But 100 years ago, this area was filled with mines, mills and people trying to make a living and maybe strike it rich.
Gold was discovered in the Desert Queen Mine ravine in 1894, according to a sign on the edge of the ravine. The mine was operated for the next 66 years, producing more than 3,800 ounces of gold.
The hike to the Desert Queen complex starts at the Pine City trailhead (directions below). While there is a sign marking the Pine City Trail, the trail for the Desert Queen Trail was unmarked in December 2013. However, it’s the trail closest to the bathrooms, on the east side of the bathrooms.
Hike uphill on this old road, until it flattens out, then goes slightly downhill. It’s a quarter mile walk from the parking lot to the Desert Queen Mine overlook. You’ll know you’re there when you see a sign that explains the history of the mine. From this overlook, you’ll also see a large pile of mine tailings and at least two gated mine shafts. Notice, the mines and the roads to the shafts are on the opposite side of the ravine.
So, the question now, is how do I get down there? You can try dropping down into the ravine from the overlook area, but it’s pretty dangerous. The “social trail” has lots of loose rock, cactus, etc.
I highly recommend backtracking on the trail/road you came in on. As you hiked in, you may have noticed two turnoffs along the way. I suggest taking the second turnoff from the parking lot (the first one on the way back). Just a hundred steps or so from the main trail, you should see the remnants of an old home. This old road/trail continues past the home, down a hill and turns left toward the ravine. At the ravine, it turns right and drops down to the bottom of the wash.
At the bottom, you should see a trail just a couple steps across the wash. That old mining road will take you up to the top of the tailings and the top of the ravine.
As you hike up the mining road, you’ll see a gated shaft, then some old equipment. Continue up the hill to the main mine shaft where you may see the remnants of the old tracks used for ore carts. Continue hiking up the hill to see a series of gated mine shafts.
When you return to the wash, you may want to hike up and down the ravine to see more of the fascinating rocks in the area and try to imagine living in this desolate area in the early-1900s. Getting here by car takes time, imagine trying to get here without good roads and at the turn of the century – without a vehicle.
After exploring, return back on the trail that dropped you into the canyon.
If you're looking for more good hikes, check out this list of 25+ hikes in the Palm Springs area.
Details: The hike to the overlook, then up and down the access road and up and down the old mining road on the opposite side of the ravine is about two miles with about 325 feet of elevation gain.
Directions: Stop at the Joshua Tree Visitor’s Center on Park Road to get a map and check on the road conditions to the trailhead. (The road is dirt.) Drive to the park entrance and reset your odometer. Take the main park road about 15.4 miles to a turnoff that says Desert Queen Mine (left) and Geology Tour Road (right). Turn left and take the dirt road about 1.3 miles to the trailhead.